The Census Bureau’s report this morning on October retail sales was decidedly mixed. Total sales increased 1.4% over September, but mostly on “cash for clunkers” auto purchases. Excluding autos, retail sales were up 0.2%. Sales for the last three months are higher than for any three-month period since September through November 2008.
Nevertheless and even with stimulus, sales remain well below previous years. Sales for the first ten months of 2009 are 8.2% less than the same period in 2008 and lower than any similar period since 2004. Automobile sales are nearly 15% under last year. Even with October’s boost, auto sales in September and October combined are almost 5% under September and October 2008. In fact, sales in every major category, except the two most basic, health & personal care and food, remain significantly less than last year.
In the silver lining department, gasoline station sales are down 30%. The price of oil averaged $65.11 through October 31 this year compared to $107.55 in 2008. Gasoline station sales account for about 9% of all retail sales.